One Less God

Many religious folk balk at atheists. They question how anyone can be an atheist in light of all of the wonderful evidence of God in nature. Just look at a tree or a lake, how could that have come about by accident?[1] Some religious people even suggest that there are no atheists, everybody actually believes in God, atheists just reject him because they want to live in sin. But actually, everybody is an atheist! Yes, that’s right everybody, even you. Moreover, people are atheists about gods without even requiring any substantial proof. I could ask you if you believe in Zeus, Thor, Quetzalcoatl or Osiris, and if I did I suspect that almost exclusively no one would acknowledge any of these characters as real. Voila, you are an atheist!

The vast majority of people in the Western world, excluding Hindus, would flatly reject the notion of the existence of every single one of the millions of gods that have been proposed throughout history.[2] No one can even name all of the gods that they are atheists in regards to.[3] There are after all so many of them. But as a matter of reasoned thinking and social convention we collectively agree that these gods are just myths. I’ve never heard anyone demand proof that Odin didn’t exist, which is interesting, because I have heard many people demand proof that Yahweh doesn’t exist. So every person in the world is an atheist in regards to a whole bunch of deities, the vast majority in fact. And we don’t require specific evidence to believe that they don’t exist. We accept that they are part of mythology and move on. However, a portion of the population makes an exception for one God. Usually that God is Allah, Yahweh or the Jesus/Yahweh combo. These stubborn deities refuse to take their place on the shelf of folklore.

An atheist is in fact just a person who believes in one less god than a believer, or lots and lots fewer gods than a Hindu believer. In medicine there is a principle known as the principle of consistency. It pertains to psychology and refers to the desire to be consistent, especially in attitudes and beliefs. If we wish to be psychologically consistent and we do not require substantial evidence in order to disbelieve in all of the other gods, then we should not require substantial evidence in order to disbelieve in Allah, Yahweh or the Jesus/Yahweh combo. Additionally, if we do not have the faith to believe in all of the other gods then it is psychologically inconsistent to have the faith to believe in Allah, Yahweh or the Jesus/Yahweh combo.

In conversations with believers, and in discussion of the “proofs” that other religions provide for the existence of their gods and for the legitimacy of their doctrines, the believers that I have spoken to scoff at the opposing evidence. For example: most of the Christians that I have ever met think that a belief in Mormonism is foolish, and that their evidence is ridiculous. I do not disagree. However, if the believer was able to apply the same degree of critical thinking to their own religion as they apply to others I think we would have far less religious people.

Some believers take exception to this idea of “one less God” but I’ll briefly examine some of their arguments. C Michael Patton claims that a comparison between belief in his God “Jesus/Yahweh” and any of the other mythological gods is unwarranted because “People did not really believe in Shu, Nut, Hercules, Baal, Wearisomu, Enki, Utu, Diana, and the like in the same way that people believe in Yahweh. Their belief was more of a social convention which included all the pressures that such a system demanded.”[4] This is a completely toothless claim, which is not only highly unlikely, but can in no way be backed up by any evidence. The monotheistic religions are also strongly rooted in social convention. The most dominant factor in determining which religious system a person will follow is where they were born. If you were born in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, statistically you are far more likely to be Moslem, whereas if you are born in the United States or New Zealand you are far more likely to be a Christian. To believe that Christianity is not rooted in social convention is naive. Patton goes on to say that “…the gods of these pantheons were/are not really gods in the proper sense. In order to call them such is a misunderstanding of what “god” means… They were more like superheroes from the Justice League than gods.”[5] Again I take exception with this argument. By very definition these “gods” are gods.[6] And it is clear from religious history that the modern gods Allah, Yahweh and Jesus/Yahweh are only derivatives of the original, ancient world, god figures.[7] Sure, the new ones are better, but who is going to move from worshipping the supreme God of the universe to worshipping the god of crops. A study of the history of God reveals that the God concept developed from animistic deities into a plurality of named deities and from there into the competitive monotheistic movement of “my God is better than your God.” This is why we see the concept of Jesus changing throughout the New Testament from Mark’s “not much more than a good man” through to John’s “ultra-God.” You might say that it is okay to reject polytheistic gods, because they are not the same as your God. But in return I would ask you then why don’t you believe in (Allah, Yahweh, Jesus/Yahweh), whichever two are not yours? All of these God concepts lay claim to being the ultimate power in the universe so why do you accept yours and reject the others?

I believe in one less God than Christians, Moslems and practitioners of Judaism. But the difference between one and none seems to be an unsurpassable void. Is faith in one specific deity out of millions and millions throughout history warranted? When we look at over 100,000 years of human history, is it likely that the real God is one of the three new kids on the block that has popped up in the last few thousand years? Perhaps he didn’t feel like revealing himself until this late in the game. But surely for human beings who have rejected so many gods it is not a stretch to just believe in one less God.

 

[1] I will address this argument at a later date.

[2] The exact figure is uncertain, but one estimate places it around 28,000,000. http://atheism.wikia.com/wiki/How_many_gods%3F.

[3] People have likely been worshipping gods for between 100,000 and 250,000 years, so most of the gods are probably not even recorded in history.

[4] http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/04/why-the-i-just-believe-in-one-less-god-than-you-argument-does-not-work/.

[5] Ibid.

[6] A God is a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity.

[7] Jesus for example is a conglomerate figure derived from a variety of different sources including Zeus, Osiris, Horus, Mithras, Krishna and Dionysus.

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